Lawmakers nudge Obama after Syria reports
March 19th, 2013
04:23 PM ET
9 years ago

Lawmakers nudge Obama after Syria reports

Washington (CNN) – Two leading Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, if true, mean the president's threshold for involvement in the country's civil war has been met.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have led calls in Congress for greater U.S. involvement in Syria, issued a joint statement saying the attacks, if verified, would demand a response from President Barack Obama.

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“If today’s reports are substantiated, the President’s red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised," the senators wrote.

Syrian state media cited government figures Tuesday who accused rebels of a deadly chemical weapons missile attack in the town of Khan al-Asal, in Aleppo province. Rebels rebuffed the claims and blamed the regime.

The town of Ateibeh, in eastern Damascus, also endured "fierce shelling with chemical rockets," an opposition group said. An unknown number of casualties were reported.

The attacks have not been confirmed by western governments, including Britain and the United States. But McCain and Graham said if they were true, a series of U.S. actions were necessary to prevent further violence in Syria.

"That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups," McCain and Graham continued in their statement. "If today's reports are substantiated, the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria."

In the two years since Syrian rebels began trying to drive Assad from power, the United States has waded into the conflict incrementally. The U.S. government formally recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition in December 2012, though stopped short of saying the U.S. would join other nations like Qatar in providing the rebels with weapons.

Obama laid out his barometer for greater action in Syria during a White House press conference in August, saying that "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

"That would change my calculus," Obama said. "That would change my equation."

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough explained Tuesday that if the reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria are validated, the Obama administration would take new action.

"If this is substantiated, it does suggest...this is a game changer and we'll act accordingly," McDonough said on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

"I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but this is something we take very, very seriously. We had teams up working on this overnight, as you might suspect, and we'll continue to trace this," he continued.

Filed under: John McCain • Lindsey Graham • Syria
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Trust, but verify.

    Why do American taxpayers need to send troops and war materials into Syria, anyway? There are several other countries already actively doing so. I say let them do it. What course of action does the Arab League suggest is best?

    March 19, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Just look at The Little Mermaid and Grandpa Munster... As if they give two craps about anything other than their personal finances!

    March 19, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    We need to assess what exactly was used because people were saying they smelled chlorine. I can't think of any NBC with that characteristic. However, that being said, at this point I think the regime will go to any length to hold onto power.

    March 19, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  4. ToldUSo

    I suppose the neocons rush to war will include offsets to cover the cost. Wasn't that the hang up for Superstorm Sandy aid?

    March 19, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  5. pkrbkr

    I hve an about before we send ANY troops anyplace in the world, the people in the Congress who have kids old enough, send THEIR kids FIRST! Then we'll see how many wars we get involved in! On this anniversary of the War in Iraq haven't we seen enough of these War Games fought by other people's kids?

    March 19, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  6. Natalie

    There's old McCain....looking for a fresh new war to get us into. Hey old man, how we going to pay for this one? How about a special war tax on the 1 percenters? Good ole GOP, anxious to go to war, but no stomach to pay the resulting bills.

    March 19, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  7. nothing new here

    So attacks are NOT being confirmed, by our government, or the governments of our allies.
    But we are all suppose to jump whenever McCain and Graham bid us to do so, and never ask "how high" to jump?
    This is not good government at work.

    March 19, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  8. Chipster

    If the President believes the U.S. should be involved, he should take that case to NATO. The U.S. should not act unilaterally unless we have been attacked by Syria. If McCain and Graham can identify the parties involved in the conflict, NATO can supply arms to those who are not members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or other terrorist organizations. Unless they can do that, we risk arming those who will turn those weapons on us. I'm so grateful that McCain did not win the 2008 election. We would have already invaded Iran, North Korea and now Syria. He's an out of control hot-head.

    March 19, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  9. Paul

    Didn't Rand Paul tell you 2 old men what to do?

    How do you plan to pay for this new war you want to start?

    March 19, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  10. sonny chapman

    The last time a Repub. Politician piped off about a Mid-East Tyrant using chemical weapons on his own people, we ended up "liberating" Iraq. Amnesia is fatal.

    March 19, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  11. Bob

    Lindsay wants to talk tough, let HIM put HIS boots on the ground, the little REMF.

    March 19, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  12. Jeff in Virginia

    The American people overwhelmingly rejected McCain for the job of President. The guy is so senile that he apparently missed the memo saying that he lost the election.

    March 19, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. ARTraveler

    If you want a war, write up a bill and be sure to add the necessary tax increase to pay for it AND return armament levels to the needed level after the war. I am sure your friends in the House will fully support you. Ot do you only go to war when someone else pays the bill or you can use it to cut services to the American people. Youwant a war, pay for it fully which is what President Cheney should have done in Afgahnstan and Iraq..

    March 19, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. don in albuquerque

    Just cannot wait to get us into another war, can they. Totally disgusting.

    March 19, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. kayla

    if grand pa and his little stooge wants to go to war , then they and their kids can go

    March 19, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  16. spike

    Just what we need. Another country where we go in and support al queida and it's affiliates. It's time to stay home and repair the damage you and our other so called representatives have wreaked on this country and it's people. Let's see who they represent ( we already know the answer ) The american people who don't want to lend support to al queida or the military industrial complex who just cant get enough war. This should instruct your next vote.

    March 19, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  17. Mikey

    "The attacks have not been confirmed by western governments, including Britain and the United States. But McCain and Graham used the reports to call on Obama's administration to take "immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised" in the event of chemical weapons being used in Syria."
    Don't Senators McCain and Graham think it might be a good idea to confirm the reports before considering what action we should take??? Just itchin' for a fight is what got us into the Iraq mess. Plus, we may have bigger problems in North Korea. The saber rattlers should leave the decision making to the smarter, cooler heads like President Obama.

    March 19, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  18. Getoverit

    @sonny chapman
    The last time a Repub. Politician piped off about a Mid-East Tyrant using chemical weapons on his own people, we ended up “liberating” Iraq.
    That is correct. George W. Bush successfully rid the world of Saddam Hussein. Just like Obama got Bin Laden.

    March 19, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. penguin

    I was always told that history should be learned to avoid the mistakes of the past. Then why do people continue to make the same mistakes made in the past. STAY OUT OF SYRIA and get out of Iraq and Afghanastan

    March 19, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  20. ja

    lets send their grandsons and granddaughters

    March 19, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  21. Martha in CF

    Their should be a full investigation into this before doing anything. We don't want another Benghazi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 19, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  22. Marita

    @Chipster – Very well said! My thoughts exactly. I cannot think of anything to add! – @Marita.

    March 19, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  23. Steve

    We ain't got no money to help. REMEMBER THE SEQUESTER? NO MORE foreign aid!!!

    March 19, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  24. Gurgyl

    I don't care where Syria goes–president is focusing on USA and infrastructure.

    March 19, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  25. PJ

    Just looking at that picture of these two makes me sick. They are so desperate to prove they were right about
    interfering in this conflict, they will say anything. Once again, they are willing to make demands on unverified
    information, and this on the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.
    Neo-cons, go away.
    Thank God we have a level headed President that thinks before he speaks.

    March 19, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
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